Harvest the benefits of employee surveys

Organizations:

Wouldn’t you like to know what "hot buttons" employees are talking about over lunch? Or why you may not be attracting the caliber of employees you want and expect? If your answers are yes, then consider conducting employee surveys as another way to grow your business.
At First Business Financial Services Inc., the holding company for First Business Bank-Milwaukee, we firmly believe in employee surveys. These are some of the benefits we’ve gained from conducting surveys for over 14 years:
— Surveys can precisely address employee issues from a company-wide perspective as opposed to relying on discussions with a few employees.
— Surveys give you benchmarks and help identify trends, both positive and negative. This is particularly true if the survey is conducted annually.
— Surveys allow employers to show employees that their opinions and suggestions are valuable.
After we review the results, we outline a specific plan to address areas of deterioration or emphasis.
In the beginning, our survey was conducted every other year, but as the First Business family has grown, we have conducted surveys annually for the past four years. Since the company was founded 14 years ago, our survey has been conducted and completed by the Bank Administration Institute in Chicago.
We have an extremely high participation rate due to the expectation to participate, first communicated in 1990 when our first bank opened. That same expectation has continued over time. Our culture centers around open and honest communication, and the survey is one of the tools that helps support that.
Survey responses are collected anonymously and confidentially. Recently, employees have been able to complete the survey online. We block off 30 minutes of company time and ask everyone to complete the survey at the same time. I believe we get such high participation because of the pre-scheduled time to complete the survey.
What benefits are gained from using outside firms for surveys? We feel there are several benefits. We get better participation and comparative data, identifying employee and employer trends (if the survey is repeated on a regular basis). We also get an understanding of employee desires for changes in employee benefits, a better understanding of quality of work life issues, an identification of problems in morale and a gauge on how change is affecting the organization.
In keeping with a culture of open communication, our survey results are shared with our employees. We present the results to all of our employees at an employee meeting. The results show how we compare to our own prior year’s results, as well as how we compare to our peer group.
Additionally, management reviews and discusses the survey results during the company’s annual fall planning session. Goals and strategies are put into place for various managers to correct any areas where we feel we are deficient, as well as to maintain the high level of satisfaction we have in many areas.
How do we put the results into practice? There are many ways in which we have paid attention to employee responses and have acted upon the data that we’ve collected. These are a few examples of how we’ve implemented changes based on information we’ve gained:
Â¥ Quarterly company-wide staff meetings to keep everyone apprised of all entities and activities.
Â¥ More emphasis on training and development.
Â¥ Overall communication with staff has been broadened.
Â¥ The employee benefits structure has been enhanced and more focused, including the recent addition of vision insurance.
Â¥ We have incorporated an annual individual benefits statement for each employee that details the total cost of all of their benefits’ value, as there was a wide misperception of actual benefits and their value or cost.
While our survey is conducted externally within our industry, there are several ways businesses can find outside organizations to facilitate the survey process. You’ll find the cost to administer surveys varies. Our survey, which includes all summary reports with comparative data, costs $3,500.
Check with business consultants who specialize in organizational development for assistance in developing an appropriate business-specific employee survey. Industry trade associations can also be of assistance.
Once you’ve decided to go forward, it’s important to create benchmarks that measure self-against-self over time. Simply measuring against the industry can be misleading. If that were all that we relied on, we might not take any significant action, but results in particular categories do change from year to year.
What data should you collect? It’s vitally important to collect the data by department, not just globally. Issues of importance in a certain area may not be important across the entire company.
When you’ve collected data across the board, that’s when management can best evaluate the feedback and decide how – or if – you should take action.
Jodi Chandler
is the vice president
of human resources
at First Business
Bank-Milwaukee.
She can be reached at jchandler@fbfinancial.net.
November 12, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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